flexible solar panels

Flexible solar panels: are they right for you?

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Solar panel technology is rapidly advancing every year, and new developments like flexible solar panels are constantly being released and improved upon. Read on to learn what flexible solar panels are, as well as how they compare to typical photovoltaic cells.


What are flexible solar panels?

flexible solar panel product

A standard monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar panel is made up of silicon wafers. They are typically up to 200 micrometers thick, which is slightly thicker than a human hair. In order to make a flexible solar panel, those silicon wafers must be sliced down to just a few micrometers wide. Using these ultra-thin silicon wafers gives solar panels many unique properties, including flexibility for some models.

Flexible solar panels made of ultra-thin silicon cells have been around for a while. More recently, research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has given way to advances in organic solar cells. Instead of using silicon as the basis for solar cells, researchers have found a way to use organic materials with electrodes of graphene. Until now, a limiting factor on panel flexibility has been the brittleness of typical electrodes, but due to graphene’s transparent and flexible nature, this method may lead to thinner, more flexible, and more stable solar panels in the future than what we can currently make.

Flexible solar panel product reviews: best of 2021

There are very few (if any) solar installers who offer flexible panels as part of a rooftop or ground-mounted system. However, you can buy flexible solar products online in small sizes for one-off solar projects, such as an RV solar setup. Here are some of the top options available to buy if you’re interested in using flexible solar panels

Flexible solar panels for sale

ProductPriceLink
Renology 175 Watt Flexible Solar Panel$290Renology
WindyNation 100 Watt Flexible Solar Panel$129WindyNation
SunPower 110 Watt Flexible Solar Panel$205Amazon
TP-solar 50 Watt Flexible Solar Panel$80Amazon
Winnewsun 100 Watt Bifacial Flexible Solar Panel$146Amazon

Renology 175 Watt 12 Volt Flexible Monocrystalline Solar Panel

This 6.2 pound solar panel can flex 248 degrees, making it one of the most flexible solar panels on the market.  It is .1 inches thick and easily mountable, making it a perfect option for portable solar generation on boats or recreational vehicles. Additionally, it is water and snow resistant, and comes with a 25-year output warranty.

Learn more here.

WindyNation 100 Watt 12V Flexible Thin Lightweight Monocrystalline Solar Panel

This completely water resistant solar panel is bendable up to 30 degrees, and is easily transportable and mountable thanks to its lightweight build. There is a blocking diode included with the panel’s junction box to regulate battery discharge and draining during the night.  
Learn more here.

SunPower 110 Watt Flexible Solar Panel

This flexible solar panel has the highest power output and charging capacity of it’s class, and it weighs only 4.4 pounds. It can flex 30 degrees, and is easily installed with metal grommets found on the back of the panel, or with adhesives. This panel is made with SunPower’s monocrystalline cells which are specifically manufactured for resistance to power loss from cracking and corrosion. 
Learn more here.

TP-solar Flexible Solar Panel 50W 24V/12V Monocrystalline Bendable

This panel can be curved to a 30 degree arc for easy mounting on RVs, cars, boats, and more. It can also be easily wired to other panels, increasing power output. The TP-solar panel is made of ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE , a material that has a high light-transmittance for peak performance. The surface of the panel is also non-stick, making the cleaning process easy. 
Learn more here.

Winnewsun Flexible Solar Panel Bifacial Flexible Solar Panel 100W

Winnewsun’s panel is unique because it generates power from both sides, and it weighs in at only 4 pounds. This “bifacial” production shows up in the product’s efficiency rating: it boasts an efficiency of 22 percent, much higher than traditional single-sided flexible solar panels. Unfortunately, there are limited options when it comes to installation – in order to gain the full value of the panel, it needs to be mounted in a way where both sides can absorb sunlight.
Learn more here.

Thin film panels: a flexible panel option

The current flexible solar panels available to homeowners on the market fall under the category of “thin film panels.” A thin film solar panel is made with layers that are over 300 times smaller than standard silicon solar panels, which gives them a much thinner profile and can even make some thin film panels flexible. Thin film panels are lightweight and durable, and can be an intriguing option depending on a solar project’s needs. (Read more about MiaSolé, a flexible thin film solar panel manufacturer, in EnergySage’s company overview.

To learn more about solar panel manufacturers focusing on flexible products, check out our company reviews on Sunflare and Miasole, two companies innovating in the flexible solar space. As these types of companies continue to refine their products, you might expect flexible solar technology to begin creeping into the residential and commercial solar markets.

Pros and cons of flexible solar panels

The biggest advantage of flexible panels is their ability to fit many types of solar projects. For example, if your roof can’t bear the heavy load of traditional solar panels due to structural concerns, lightweight flexible panels like thin-film may be a great solution that won’t compromise your home’s structural integrity. Because flexible panels can be shaped to fit the surface they are installed on, they can be easily installed on less conventional structures like carports.

Financially, flexible panels will likely reduce the installation cost of your solar array. Flexible/thin film panels require less labor to install, and they are much more portable and easy to handle than typical panels, which can be bulky and heavy and require heavy-duty roof mounting systems.

The most common obstacle for thin film or flexible solar panels is their lower efficiency than classic panels. Today, the efficiency ratings for average monocrystalline or polycrystalline panels hovers between 16 and 20 percent. Thin film solar panels, on the other hand, typically offer an efficiency of between 7 and 15 percent. This lowered efficiency means that you will need more solar panels to produce the same amount of energy, which can be a barrier to some solar projects with limited roof space for installation.

Additionally, flexible solar panels aren’t a good fit for many home rooftop solar projects, because there may not be enough roof space to produce your desired amount of energy. Due to their durability and portability, flexible solar panels are best for small solar projects on surfaces such as RVs or boats, where they may experience physical wear and tear that would not occur on a stationary roof. Their durability combined with the reduced weight of flexible panels make them ideal for these smaller, mobile solar projects that don’t need large amounts of energy.

When are flexible solar panels useful?

Perhaps the best application for flexible solar panels is in situations where you might need a portable solar solution. Products like the Winnewsun Flexible Solar Panel are one way to generate solar power on the go, potentially on the roof of an RV. Similar to flexible panels are foldable solar panels like the SUAOKI Solar Charger. Like flexible panels for your RV, folding solar panels are a great option for camping and hiking trips if you need lightweight and portable power.

All things considered, a flexible solar panel setup is usually best for on-the-go solar power instead of as a permanent home solar solution. When you’re out on the trail, camping, or driving long distances, having a durable, lightweight, and flexible solar panel setup can be a great way to generate free electricity from the sun.

Finding the right solar panel setup for your home is easy

Whether you are interested in thin-film solar panels or more traditional monocrystalline and polycrystalline modules, it is important to compare solar quotes from many installers to select the best one for your property. On the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, you can solicit quotes from qualified, pre-vetted installers and compare them side by side. Our installers offer many types of solar installation, and can work with you to customize a perfect home solar solution to meet your energy needs while tailoring their installation for your unique home. If you are interested in a certain type or manufacturer of solar panels, simply leave a note on your property profile for installers to see.


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About Jacob Marsh

Jacob is a researcher and content writer at EnergySage, where he focuses primarily on current issues–and new technology!–in the solar industry. With a background in environmental and geological science, Jacob brings an analytical perspective and passion for conservation to help solar shoppers make the right energy choices for their wallet and the environment. Outside of EnergySage, you can find him playing Ultimate Frisbee or learning a new, obscure board game.

20 thoughts on “Flexible solar panels: are they right for you?

  1. SYOF

    Thank you for this article. I was not aware that there are double-sided panels on the market. This lends to additional placement and design options. The technological upgrade could theoretically result in the ability to install solar panels, a paneling/siding in some instances. I am intrigued and hope I will be able to test the theory in a year or so.

    Reply
  2. Nirmal Kumar Bhonsle

    NTBS Solar, Being India’s largest manufacturer of customized flexible solar panels, have moved up effeciency to 20%. Our 1 MTR x 1 MTR panel produces 200W. I agree that flexible solar panels have their disadvantages, the major being longevity. But ETFE has overcome that problem to a great extent. But we have taken it to a different level, with BIPV.

    Reply
  3. Hardy

    Great article! because the best flexible solar panels absorb solar energy from multiple angles, I’m likely to get more power than I would with traditional panels. Who can say no to that?

    Reply
  4. curious

    Panels don’t perform as well when they’re too hot, is that correct? How could you mount flexible panels *above* the roof surface, to get some cooling airflow between? Or is this not a concern.

    Reply

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